Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson has been the expert on the history of the Racing Capital of the World since he arrived in Central Indiana in the mid-1960s. Now 2010 Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductee Davidson is answering your questions periodically in this blog!
Q: How many times has the race been “red-flagged” for reasons other than rain, i.e., for accidents?
—Rick Johnson, Lynnwood, Wash.
A: Other than for rain, I can only think of six times total, a mere three of which were after the race was off and running. Those would be for the second-lap accident in 1964, which took the lives of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald; the Lap 58 accident in 1973 which ultimately resulted in the demise of Swede Savage; and the final lap of 1967, when A.J. Foyt had to pick his way through the debris of a multi-car accident to reach Pat Vidan’s simultaneous checker and red. The other three would be due to accidents right at the start of the 1966 and 1973 events, plus a stoppage on the 1970 pace lap when ninth-starting Jim Malloy spun out of Turn 4 (due to a suspension failure, miraculously to be missed by everyone) just as the field was heading down for the start. All of the other red flags were due to weather-related issues, plus of course to wave in all other cars at a race conclusion. In 1974, when the policy was still to let the cars run for five more minutes after the winner had completed the distance, the red came out after only three and a half minutes when infield fans began running out onto the track to salute winner Johnny Rutherford.
Q: I believe the first “500″ was started with the wave of a RED flag, which at the time signified a clear track?
A: True. In fact it was not until a revamping of virtually all of the flag meanings in 1930 that green took the place of red. Prior to that, green had meant one lap to go.
Q: I have heard that Tommy Milton had no sight in his right eye, which makes winning two “500s” even more amazing?
A: That was the word. You’ll note that in virtually all photographs of the cagey and even secretive 1921 and 1923 winner, he usually has a pronounced squint. The late Charles Lytle, perhaps the most eminent of all the historians on early American racing, once asked a Milton contemporary, “Do you think he really only had one eye?” to which the contemporary fired back, “One? Hell, he had at least five in the back of his head!”
Q: Was it Kosuke Matsuura in 2004 or 2005 who was shocked to learn that the start was three abreast and that he had not had that particular experience before?
A: Actually, that was Tora Takagi in 2003. The Indianapolis Star had a studio set up on the grounds, for taking head shots of all the drivers for the starting lineup in its race souvenir edition, designed in such a way that each head shot would have precisely the same lighting and so forth. Over to one side of the room there was a “mock-up” to show what the finished page was going to look like. The word is that Takagi, a “rookie,” causally strolled over for a look, and that after a few seconds his eyes slowly grew as wide as saucers when it dawned on him what the design implied. He then turned to his interpreter and, with a look of great concern, subtly held up three fingers and raised his eyebrows. When the interpreter nodded in the affirmative, Takagi, who went on to finish fifth and win the Rookie of the Year award, is said to have spent the next many seconds staring at the floor with a look of astonishment on his face. Apparently, he had not been previously aware that the “500″ employs three-abreast starts.
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